Controlling floodwaters has also become a priority and a reason in favour of the Kabalagh dam, given that floods during monsoonal rains are becoming increasingly more intense and have devastated large crop areas. Furthermore, climate change has affected water availability during the winter cropping season, contributing to Pakistan’s shrinking water supply.
While the Kabalagh dam is defended as a necessary means of supplying water to agriculturalists, the construction of the dam would inundate large stretches of land and displace about 120,000 people.
The dam has come to symbolize the uneven distribution of resources between rich and poor regions, particularly between the Sindh and Punjab provinces. As a result, large scale civilian protests and political fractures between regional governments surfaced, ending in the suspension of the project in 2008.
Note: Here, interstate tensions are not between nation states but within Pakistani states.
To address the increasing supply-demand gap of water and electricity in Punjab caused by urbanisation, industry, and population growth, the government proposed to build the Kalabagh hydro-electric dam on the Indus River in 1984. The dam has since attracted regular public protests and regional government criticism as the dam would affect water access and water quality for farmers, industry, and urban centres downstream. As a result of large scale civilian protests and political fractures between regions, the project was suspended in 2008. However, the project re-opened in 2012 and currently awaits assessment from a national mitigation body.
Water and energy demands necessitate the dam
The Kalabagh hydro-electric dam has been defended as a necessary means of supplying water to agriculturalists in the context of Pakistan's shrinking water supply (Rizvi, 2006). In 2005, 29% of the agricultural sector could not meet their water requirements and, with current water supply infrastructures, this is estimated to reach 33% by 2025 (Feyyaz, 2011). The Kalabagh dam is also considered a necessary climate-friendly method to provide Pakistan with much needed energy. In 2011, the supply-demand gap in electricity ranged between 1500 and 2500MW per day (Feyyaz, 2011). Controlling floodwaters has also become a priority in the context of climate change and increasingly unpredictable monsoon seasons (Feyyaz, 2011). Monsoonal rains often swell the banks of the Indus River feeding from the Indus basin, causing devastating flooding. This was experienced in 2010 when floods wiped out 1.1 million hectares of crops (Farmer, 2010). Moreover, water availability during the winter cropping season has been continuously dwindling due to the overall climatic change in Pakistan (Feyyaz, 2011).
Social impacts of the dam
However, if the dam were to be built it would inundate 10,200 acres of land and displace about 120,000 people. Citizens of the Mianwali district where the dam is planned to be built, argue that the benefits of the dam will be unevenly distributed amongst the ruling class in Punjab and private investors, and will disadvantage smaller communities. The dam has also become a point of inter-regional ethnic tension, as it has come to symbolise the uneven distribution of resources between rich and poor regions, particularly between Sindh and Punjab.
The current conflict situation
In 2006, the Awami National Party mobilised 20,000 citizens to protest against the dam north of Islamabad, highlighting the politicisation of this dam conflict (Rizvi, 2006). The three provinces to be affected by the dam originally opposed the Kalabagh dam, however, compensation offers and the experience of flooding, in combination with obvious water shortages, has led to three of the four provinces supporting the dam. Today, only the Sindh region opposes the project. The case has been brought before the Council of Common Interest (CCI), which is yet to determine the future of the dam.
Authorities involved in the conflict
Water conflict over the Indus Basin, particularly between the Sindh and Punjab regions, is a reoccurring phenomenon. To mitigate conflict surrounding the distribution of water from the Indus Basin, the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) was established in 1992. This authority monitors usage compliance of Indus waters, as set out in the Water Apportionment Accord of 1991 (Razzaq, 2013). The IRSA investigated provincial concerns over the Kalabagh dam in 2007 and asserted its feasibility. The decision was referred to the constitutional Council of Common Interest (CCI). The CCI also ruled in favour of the federal government's plans for the dam. The topic was then referred to parliament and, as a result of hot politicisation, the Federal Minister for Water and Power declared to postpone construction to 2008 (Razzaq, 2013). The Lahore High Court declared the government legally obliged to build the dam in compliance with the ruling of the CCI in 2008 and plans were subsequently re-released. The issue has been brought again before the CCI for review (Tanveer, 2012).
Weaknesses of the resolution efforts
As a result of destructive flooding and increasing energy demands from both the industrial and private sector, all provinces, excluding Sindh, are now in favour of Kalabagh, thus changing the probable outcome of the CCI decision. However, there are remaining weaknesses in the dispute resolution methods dealing with the Kalabagh dam, which may provide a barrier to conflict resolution. To begin with, there is a distinct lack of centralised leadership, which was displayed when the government disregarded the initial CCI ruling because of protests by Sindh politicians (Imam & Lohani 2012). Furthermore, sustainable water consumption has been ignored. According to research conducted by the American Institute of Peace in 2010, water problems in Pakistan are largely related to poor water management. Sustainable agricultural practices are therefore key in addressing concerns about water shortages expressed by Sindh province and should be integrated into hydro-policy discourse.